Speak No Evil


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Scene Title Speak No Evil
Synopsis Lynette provides assistance to a conspicuously quiet child and a seemingly benign liar.
Date December 17, 2018

The Benchmark Recovery and Counseling Center

Benchmark is a tall, red brick building renovated into a rehab facility. The first floor holds doctors' offices, reception, waiting areas and conference rooms. The lobby is warm and inviting, with a rust-colored design scheme and paintings of calm oceans and pristine beaches. The common areas follow this design, but each doctor has designed their own offices to their own tastes. The upper floors holds dorm-style rooms, split for two occupants per room. Each floor has a communal shower/bathroom. Very dorm-like. Freshman dorms. There is one room on each floor for an employee assigned to that floor, as a communication point for the clients and semi-guard for them, too. This room is more self-contained and the employees are not expected to use the same facilities as the client.

The top floor is different, set up more like an apartment building, where people come to live. These are typically ex-Ferrymen or the like who need a place to stay and are willing to exchange room and board for some work maintaining the building. They do not interact with the clients. The doctors are also welcome to stay in these apartments, but most choose not to.

Rain has been making good on its threats all day, filling the sky outside with a grey clouds and the streets with erratic buckets of water. Foot traffic has been thin; therapy is important, and few people know that better than the patients of the Benchmark Recovery and Counseling Center, but sometimes an important step for change is to take care of yourself. Which can mean curling up in the warmth of home with a cup of hot cocoa, after apologizing politely on the phone to your therapist. Every city in the world is supposedly full of drivers that have no idea how to drive in rain, and New York City is no different. Every couple of hours, the nearest cross section bursts into honks and curses.

But they do have one new patient in here tonight.

They're a kid, no more than 13 years old. Shoulder-length brown hair, a pale, heart-shaped face, blue eyes that seem to have difficulty focusing on anything at all. Rain is drying dark spots on the collar of their sweater, which they're huddled in, chin dug down deep into the cotton.

The man beside them is finishing the paperwork. He looks nothing at all like the child— tall with dark hair, his grey coat tailored to fit the lanky, athletic lines of his frame, but age showing in his boots despite the tidy shiny of rigorously-applied polish. He writes down, Abraxas Hernandez as his own name, and circles Guarden. He writes down, Nico Doe under the child's name, Non-binary under gender, ~12 for age. And then Traumatic mutism. A few more details after that, the script leaving his pen in tidy cursive strokes.

He pats the child on the shoulder, and they don't look up at him. But they stay put, snuggled down next to a pot plant, stealing peeks at the coloring book propped up beneath its shadow, as he returns to the counter and offer the woman the clipboard again. 'Abraxas' eyes are warm and friendly, empty of recognition. (He's a good liar, you know. It's the job.) "Hello, Senora. Thank you very much for considering our case."

Usually, it isn't Lynette herself up front, but when her receptionist is out, she's in. She knows all the procedures— she wrote them— so it isn't much of a chore, even. Except in that she has been trying not to get wrinkles in her suit, so instead of sitting, she leans a hip against the desk. While Abraxas fills out the paperwork, Lynette has been going through the files, trying to fit this particular case to the right team. By her expression, some discussion will have to happen before they come to a final decision.

But she's paying enough attention to the pair to notice him making his way back over, and she sets down her files to meet him with a warm expression of her own. "Of course," she says, her tone gentle as well, "we'll be happy to help in any way we can." It's worth noting that she doesn't seem to have anything like a computer here to streamline all this paperwork. Instead, it's locked filing cabinets and pen and paper. In a world with technopaths, it might be the best way to keep patient information actually private. "Will they need a room? We are capable of providing room and board to our clients. There are some suites for families." In the case of the client being a minor. Like now.

How sensible of her. 'Abraxas' looks over the cabinets a moment before his eyes return to her, crinkling with a warm smile. He settles down a little against the counter, elbows propped up on its surface, making himself smaller, less threatening, in as casual a way as you like— but careful not to lean forward too far either. It wouldn't be wise, to seem overly friendly in a setting where people are trained to read body language and resolve behavioral ills. "I think that could be appropriate," he says. "I'm with Family Builders. We're a contractor for the national fostering service. As you can imagine, we've had more demand than we can meet in the past few years, and children who have special conditions— it's been hard."

That much is not a lie. While disaster and war hurt whole nations, the most vulnerable people tend to feel it hardest. And children, without resources or guardians, are exactly that. 'Abraxas' glances back over his shoulder, and maybe it's because of that movement, or maybe it's because Lynette is so pretty. But the child reflexively looks up, meeting both their eyes for an instant, before they drop their stare fiercely back to the colored pages on the endtable.

'Abraxas' looks back at her, his expression a little wry, but not judging. "There are two of us on the care team. I'll be the first to admit, we're out of our depth here. I got a smile out of them this morning, just for an instant, but I don't know if they were laughing at me, or with me on that one."

"Of that, I have no doubt," Lynette says, tone dipping a little. She doesn't have to imagine— she doubts very many have to. "When they can, we'll need identification for the other half of the team if they're going to stay here as well." More professional again, more friendly. "Just so we know who is supposed to be here and who isn't." Security, he'll notice the longer he stays, is tight around The Benchmark. As tight as she can make it without alarming the clients.

Her attention shifts over to the child when his does and Lynette meets their gaze with a wave. When they look back to the endtable, she mirrors Abraxas' wry expression with her own. "It's probably best not to know. Safer for the ego," she says, more playful than she has been. After retrieving a set of keys— proper door keys— from a locked drawer under the desk, she comes around to approach the child. Not too close, but close enough to be clear who she's addressing. Even though she's technically addressing both of them. "Would you like to come on a tour? I can promise it includes the room where we keep all the best snacks."

'Abraxas' smiles at the offer. Something like tension seems to fade from his face with that; still not gone, perhaps, but eased by the courtesy and kindness that she offers. And it's a good idea, of course, to ease little Nico into the environment they'll be staying in. He turns and calls out to the child, who looks up, lifting their hand from the page they'd been poking at. They slip off the chair and come skittering over. 'Eager' would be the wrong word, but something about being invited— and not pressed to speak— at least has the kid out of their chair. 'Abraxas' is careful with them, visibly, slow to touch their shoulder and then brief about it.

"Nico, this is—" he pauses, as if he does not know her name. (He does know her name, but he's quite accomplished at pretend.) They peek at her, but Nico is the first to break their gaze, as if realizing abruptly that they'd been rather bold in the presence of a stranger. They peer instead at her blouse, their little eyebrows pitched high on their forehead.

"Lynette," she's quick to supply, for the both of them. Her usual receptionist is a lot better at the professionalism— at least to the point of remembering to introduce herself. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Nico." She doesn't reach out for them, not even for a handshake, instead, they get a smile before she shifts her attention to take in both of them. "This way," she invites with a tip of her head as she moves toward the back hallway. "If you take a right," she says, with a gesture to match, "you'll find my office. You're always welcome to come there if you need anything. Either of you. But the good stuff is this way." She turns the opposite way, ushering the pair forward.

'Abraxas' and Nico come along with the young woman. Despite her own impressions about her own professionalism, they appear to be quite eager to go along. Nico looks into her office when she points at it, and they even drift slightly toward the door, paying close attention, as if seriously considering they might come to her for help one day.

'Abraxas' keeps an eye on the child as they patter about, but then he turns his attention to the woman. Perhaps it's a bold question in normal conversation, but he asks it easily— after all, social work and counselors, they go hand in hand. And it's never been an easy job to hold, but it's never been harder in the USA as it was since the Civil War. "What brings you to this work, senorita?" he asks. "Is there a story you can share the short version of, as we take this tour through your lovely facility?"

He puts his hands in his pockets. His body language speaks of easy, friendly indolence despite the cold and damp day, as he strolls along. He nods and smiles at a staff member who passes by.

"Here toward the front are meeting rooms," Lynette explains as they start to pass some of the double-doored conference-sized spaces. Some of them have signs up on the doors denoting that a group is in session and what sort of support it's most suited for. "You'll see a lot of people in and out of here. But that's why we keep them near the lobby. So they don't interrupt more private sessions." She picks one that isn't in use and pops the door open. Inside, a room painting in cool tones with comfortable chairs all arranged in a circle. It's one of the smaller rooms, but it serves as a decent example of what to expect.

The question keeps her from saying whatever she might have to say about the room and instead, she turns back toward Jose and Nico, glancing between the two. There is certainly a story, and a complicated one, but the details are perhaps best glossed over. That's what she seems to think anyway, as she explains. "I drank my way through my years in the Ferrymen," she says, nodding for them to follow as she continues down the hall, "The worse the political climate got, the more I drank. Through the war, too. A lot of us did, or worse. We were all hiding what we were, what was happening… There was nothing to help us gain our footing, from manifestation onward."

'Abraxas' mouth draws into a thin line. He nods his head as he listens to her, his dark brow furrowed thoughtfully.

In the meantime, Nico is pattering toward the offices, and then pausing, winding their head back for permission— which they glean from Jose through some subtle non-motion on his part. Nico pokes their head into one of the meeting rooms that's apparently empty. They know better than to disappear entirely into the room. They stare fixedly at a snake plant sitting in the corner, then pull their little mop head back out again. Meeting rooms. No place for small children. But maybe down this hallway, there will be something. Nico knows better than to be truly optimistic about anything in this world, but they were promised a home. And there is some vague association in their mind, between home and toys. Home and food. Home and kindness, in the time before they decided to never again speak words.

"You tell the story as if you were the one who needed help," he says. "Salvation from substances and misery." He scratches the back of his neck thoughtfully, his eyes drifting back to the next empty meeting room when a car passes through on the far side of the window, sending a pattern of shadows like panther rosettas across her cheek and slender nose. "But here you are," 'Abraxas' says. "The one offering it. Prologue before the start of your current journey, I take it."

"Oh, I did need it. Still do. But I know I'm not the only one. And it would be nice, I think, if no one else had to find their way in the dark." Lynette turns to look at Nico as they make their way down the hall. It isn't more than a few steps in before they can smell warm bread mixing with spices on the air. The door to the kitchens looks like all the other doors, but it's still easy to tell which it is. Lynette steps ahead to push open the door— mostly to make sure it's safe to pop in— then looks back to gesture Nico over. Food, they have. A small island in the room seems to already be set up for guests, as a set of stools is set up around it. Which probably means Lynette sneaks in here often enough.

"My current journey is still very much in progress. We'll see if I'm successful at it." She is trying to rewrite herself, after all. Old habits have proven difficult to shake entirely, but she has infinite chances to get it right.

Spice bread draws the attention of both Lynette's companions. Who doesn't love bread. A few people don't love bread, I guess, but that's obviously a defect of character, and no matter what's wrong with Nico's capacity for speech or 'Abraxas' capacity for deceit, their personalities are acceptable in this particular way.

In an expected show of entitlement, Nico scuttles into the room and places their little butt on a stool.

Then they realize what they did D: and slide off the stool guiltily, shooting Lynette and Jose an abashed look.

"I think they're going to settle in pretty well," 'Abraxas' observes. "No matter where this journey of yours is taking, it's lucky our paths crossed at this juncture." He studies her face. She is very fair, perhaps even moreso when her face is serious. Her husband is a lucky man. "I'd be happy to donate some music and art supplies. I could put it in under supporting your specific work with Nico," nonverbal kids, nonverbal techniques, as it is, "but we have a surplus."

Lynette can only smile when Nico heads right for the stools, and she nods them onward when they look her way. "It's alright, that's what they're there for. I think you'll find, if you sneak in here, the cooks are always looking for someone to taste test new recipes." She lifts her eyebrows, as if this were a grand secret. She looks toward the cooks, too, giving them a nod toward the child.

But then she turns to Abraxas, his words get a smile, "I hope they do. We'll do everything we can to aide their transition. And we officially welcome just about any donation. In this case especially." She leans against the doorway, arms crossing loosely as she looks back over at Nico. "I really should rethink my tour. They always seem to stall out here," she says, without any intention of actually changing anything. This building is supposed to be a home, and it's clear that Lynette goes out of her way to make sure of it.

Nico sneaks a smile at them. A small one, like a secret. They don't climb back onto the stool, but they suck in great lungfuls of delicious-smelling warmth, lift up their elbows onto the counter top and try their luck staring meaningfully at the nearest cook. Give us bread or give us— no. There are no other options.

Always one to lead the way, 'Abraxas' sits himself onto the stool.

"Then we have an agreement," he says to Lynette. It's semi true. They had the working beginnings of an agreement some minutes ago, after he filled out the paperwork, and gifts like paintbrushes and a plastic keyboard are just a couple of final flourishes. Still, it gives a good excuse for 'Abraxas' to open his hands in invitation and say,
"We should break bread."

Carbs are a good virtue to have in common.

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